Nothing like a rainy afternoon to boost your reading habits... And finish long overdue pieces.
Over the last couple of weeks, as time permitted (and it was tough going where time was concerned), I've been leafing through the eBook version of Foundations of Ajax, by Ryan Asleson and Nate Schutta (who are also the co-creators of Taconite, a J2EE-oriented Ajax framework).
Now, you know all about Ajax, of course. It's that newfangled Web 2.0 development meme centered on using the XMLHTTPRequest object to dynamically rebuild pages piecemeal. But if you want to get a well-rounded view, this book might be a nice way to dive in.
Besides attention to detail and copious examples, the book delivers a nice mix of background information (i.e., besides the "hows", you also get the "whys") and a relatively language-agnostic approach - although the authors present many server-side examples written in Java, the emphasis is on discussing the server-side logic - to the extent of just presenting the server output alone in some cases.
Now, I'm not a Java enthusiast (quite the contrary, I'm afraid), but truth be told that the server-side code for the examples presented makes very clear reading, and the examples are simple and short enough to avoid the risk of offending partisans from any specific language camp.
Besides addressing the basics of using XML to pack data exchanged between browser and server, there's also a no-frills, crisp and clear introduction to the benefits of using JSON for the same purpose (a technique I find much more effective and appealing for simple data structures). But, best of all, the detail extends to covering HTTP response headers (something most Ajax frameworks seem to ignore, and that I've always found a terribly useful way of exchanging information).
The White Glove Test
Dashing Towards The End
Now, this may put off the kind of reader that just wants to, say, get up to speed on Rails or Django, but given the book's focus on teaching the basic techniques (which are valid no matter what you'll end up using), I think that it's more than enough for die-hard programmers who want to understand the underlying mechanics before getting mired in abstraction.
Like the few other Apress books I've been exposed to, Foundations of Ajax, becomes "sticky" due to its balanced approach - it's something you read instead of just dipping in and picking up quick recipes to scratch whatever itch you may have, and the smooth ramping in complexity as techniques unfold makes for a good learning experience.
If you want to use Ajax but aren't yet ready to commit to a specific framework, this might be the book to get you started.